Somewhere around the end of last summer, I posted a photograph on Facebook. It was a rather unknown black and white photograph by the late Saul Leiter of his sister Deborah. It was made in 1947. I posted it after writer and lecturer Jörg Colberg had written a piece on his blog about the “gestures” of photography. “The age of innocence is long over in photography,” Colberg writes.“There have been way too many photographs made for anyone to be able to innocently take a picture anywhere.”
So when I posted the photograph of Deborah on Facebook, I wrote: “Let's pretend there still is some innocence to it. Let's pretend it can be somewhat pure, even though it probably never was – not even in 1947.”
The World Cup is boring. Novels are boring. Baseball is mostly boring. Anything that's not a constant highlight reel is boring.
So let us now praise these and many other things uneventful. It's when nothing very much "happens" that some really interesting stuff is given the chance to actually happen. On those occasions when the source of our attention doesn't offer up easy surface pleasures, the viewer must actively participate in the making of meaning. And when that occurs, it’s no longer “about” the thing experienced; rather, it’s about the viewer. It’s all interior. Which is a weird and thrilling place to be.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of friends who, after we’ve known each other for a while, have put it to me delicately that they don’t “understand” photography as an art form. Most of them actually looked at and enjoyed serious photographs, but they were hung up on the mechanical ease of the medium, particularly when it was viewed in a museum or gallery full of very difficult-to-make paintings and sculptures. One time, after walking around for a couple of hours when I was making some pictures, a guy who is close enough to not worry about offending me said, “You just take pictures of everything, and there’s bound to be something good.” I’m guessing that something similar has happened to almost anyone interested in photographing.
At first, I had a whole bunch of (slightly defensive) answers about the moment of exposure being just the beginning of a process – that one makes numerous important choices in developing film, work printing and editing, and final printing &etc. These are good answers.
But there are better answers, or I guess one better answer, and it has to do with what happens before, rather than after, the shutter is released or the print is fixed.